The stress of life can wreak all sorts of physical havoc on our bodies, from clogged arteries to migraines. But one of the more insidious effects of stress may turn our sleep — which should be our chance to recharge and de-stress — into a dangerous time for our dental health.Bruxism, or teeth grinding, most often occurs while we sleep. While many factors may contribute to bruxism, one leading factor is commonly believed to be stress.Recently, some U.K. dentists have noticed a rise in cases even among adolescents. Dr. Shivani Patel, of Elleven Orthodontics in London, says: “I am seeing patients aged 12 or 13 who are stressed by exams, and begin grinding as a result. Once you grind down to the dentin level, damage is irreparable, and you become very sensitive to heat and cold, too.”
The dentin level Dr. Patel refers to lies just below the hard enamel of our teeth. Enamel is, in fact, the hardest substance in the human body, and holds up well against most of the foods we put in our mouth.
But in bruxism, the enamel-on-enamel pressure can wear away even this very dense material, exposing the dentin beneath and paving the way for more decay.
So what can be done for bruxism? Since one of the main culprits is stress, relaxation and tension reduction are key.
In addition to muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety drugs, some studies support the use of hypnotherapy. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy showed that hypnosis actually reduced grinding, sometimes for as long as three years.
But the first step is diagnosis. If you think you might grind your teeth at night, ask your spouse if they’ve noticed. If you live alone, you can ask your dentist at your next exam to look for the telltale signs of enamel wear caused by bruxism.